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Totila, King of the Ostrogoths

Totila, King of the Ostrogoths


Totila (b. ?-d.July 1, 552) was the penultimate King of the Ostrogoths, reigning from 541 to 552 AD. A skilled military and political leader, Totila reversed the tide of Gothic War, recovering by 543 almost all the territories in Italy that the Eastern Roman Empire had captured from his Kingdom in 540.


"Totila" was the nom de guerre of a man whose real name was Baduila, as can be seen from the coinage he issued. "Totila" is how he was referred to by the historian Procopius. According to Henry Bradley, `Totila' and `Baduila' are diminutives of `Totabadws'. [1] Born in Treviso, Totila was a relative of Theudis, king of the Visigoths. Elected king of the Ostrogoths in 541 after the death of his uncle Ildibad, having engineered the assassination of Ildibad's short-lived successor, his cousin Eraric in 541. The official Byzantine position, adopted by Procopius and even by the Romanized Goth Jordanes, writing just before the conclusion of the Gothic Wars, was that Totila was a usurper: Jordanes' Getica (551) overlooks the recent successes of Totila. [2]

3. The Vandals

Use of the word “vandalism” to describe the wanton destruction of public property owes it origins to the Vandals, a Germanic tribal people who carried out a famous sack of Rome. The raid was triggered by the assassination of the Roman Emperor Valentinian III, who had previously pledged his daughter Eudocia to the son of the Vandal King Genseric as part of a peace treaty. Claiming the deal was invalidated by the Emperor’s death, Genseric invaded Italy and marched on Rome in 455. The Romans were powerless to stop his advancing army, so they sent Pope Leo to negotiate. The pontiff persuaded Genseric not to burn the city or murder its inhabitants, and in exchange, the Vandals were allowed to pass through the gates of Rome without a fight.

Genseric and his band spent the next two weeks gathering up all the booty they could carry. They looted the city’s patrician homes of gold, silver and furniture, and even ransacked the imperial palace and the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. True to their word—if not their name—they refrained from destroying buildings or killing anyone, but they did claim a few prisoners. Chief among them was Valentinian’s daughter, Princess Eudocia, who was later married to Genseric’s son in accordance with their earlier agreement.

Gothic War

Since Theodahad ignored Justinian’s ultimatum, Justinian sent an army against Italy. This war in history is known as Gothic War. A part of this force conquered Dalmatia, while the other part, under the leadership of Belisarius, took Sicily striking from North Africa (535), Napoli was conquered shortly after, and after that Rome itself. Belisarius conquered southern Italy swiftly. In the meantime a new Ostrogothic king, Vitiges, was crowned. He claimed the throne by marrying Amalasuntha’s daughter. Vitiges besieged Belisarius in Rome, but Belisarius was able to break out and took Ravenna in 539 after several decisive battles. He captured the Ostrogothic king and conquered northern Italy. Belisarius returned to Constantinople in 540, with a triumphal entry in which he paraded the captured Vitiges.

In 540 the eastern Roman emperor was occupied with the Persian threat, which the Ostrogoths used to regain their strength. The Ostrogoth king Totila (541 – 552) was supported by the lower social classes. He deemed the Roman aristocracy as unreliable. His doubts were reasonable. We should note that many influential Romans fled from Italy when war broke out (among them Cassiodorus). Because of this, Totila recruited soldiers from Roman slaves and coloni. By 552 he had raided Sicily, conquered southern Italy and entered Rome.

But Justinian I was ready to deal with the matters in the west. He sent Narses against Totila, a eunuch (castrated man) of Armenian descent. Narses was capable enough, he defeated the Ostrogoths in the battle of Taginae 552, in which the Ostrogothic king was slain. By 554 Italy was conquered with the aid of the Langobards, Burgundians and the Catholic church. Totila’s policies were abolished, and the estates, slaves and coloni were given back to their former owners. Italy was devastated after twenty years of war. The Gothic War historians usually divide into two phases: First phase (535-540) and Second phase (540-554).

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Totila

TOTILA (d. 552), king of the Ostrogoths, was chosen king after the death of his uncle Ildibad in 541, his real name being, as is seen from the coinage issued by him, Baduila. The work of his life was the restoration of the Gothic kingdom in Italy and he entered upon the task at the very beginning of his reign, collecting together and inspiring the Goths and winning a victory over the troops of the emperor Justinian, near Faenza. Having gained another victory in 542, this time in the valley of Mugello, he left Tuscany for Naples, captured that city and then received the submission of the provinces of Lucania, Apulia and Calabria. Totila's conquest of Italy was marked not only by celerity but also by mercy, and Gibbon says “none were deceived, either friends or enemies, who depended on his faith or his clemency.” Towards the end of 545 the Gothic king took up his station at Tivoli and prepared to starve Rome into surrender, making at the same time elaborate preparations for checking the progress of Belisarius who was advancing to its relief. The Imperial fleet, moving up the Tiber and led by the great general, only just failed to succour the city, which must then, perforce, open its gates to the Goths. It was plundered, although Totila did not carry out his threat to make it a pasture for cattle, and when the Gothic army withdrew into Apulia it was from a scene of desolation. But its walls and other fortifications were soon restored, and Totila again marching against it was defeated by Belisarius, who, however, did not follow up his advantage. Several cities were taken by the Goths, while Belisarius remained inactive and then left Italy, and in 549 Totila advanced a third time against Rome, which he captured through the treachery of some of its defenders. His next exploit was the conquest and plunder of Sicily, after which he subdued Corsica and Sardinia and sent a Gothic fleet against the coasts of Greece. By this time the emperor Justinian was taking energetic measures to check the Goths. The conduct of a new campaign was entrusted to the eunuch Narses Totila marched against him and was defeated and killed at the battle of Tagina in July 552.

See E. Gibbon, Decline and Fall, edited by J. B. Bury (1898), vol. iv T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (1896), vol. iv. and Kampfner, Totila, König der Ostgoten (1889).

WI: the Ostrogoths won the Gothic War?

At the Siege of Naples, Belisarius had only 8000 men he would have 10600 at Rome the next year, so not a big difference in numbers for him, but hey, its something.

Furthermore, unlike with Rome, which immediately accepted Justinian's rule, the citizens of Naples decided to resist Belisarius, and formed a militia to fight alongside 800 Gothic soldiers. Now, Naples did eventually fall, but in large part due to the failure of the Gothic king, Theodahad, to come to the assistance of the city in time, leading to his overthrow by Vitiges. Belisarius would later go on to defeat Vitiges in the Siege of Rome due to having the support of the Roman citizens and thus the ability to quarter his army behind the protective walls of the city of Rome in an alternate world where Theodahad does come to Naples, Belisarius would not have this liberty. At Rome, Vitiges did have 25000-45000 men which Theodahad would likely also have at Naples, thus Belisarius would not only be heavily outnumbered but would be out in the open to Gothic attack as well.

Now, we all know he could just pull off another spectacular victory like the Battle of Dara or Ad Decimum, but this is alternate history guys, we're not just going to make some small change to the world only to get the same end result. For the sake of the POD, Belisarius loses, and is killed in battle. Whether Narses also lands in 538 is up for you to decide, but lets say he does in my opinion, given his measly force of 7000 men, which was intended only as reinforcements, he would lose, but potentially this untested commander is given an actual force, do you think he wins or loses?

Belisarius failing to take Naples is obviously one of the best straight up PODs (the other is Eutharic surviving his early death) to guarantee a strong Italo-Gothic kingdom.
The problem is that Theodahad was not the sharpest tool on the rack (I'd go as far as suggesting he might find difficult to organize a piss-up in a brewery ), although -looking at the problem more seriously - his sin appears to be the failure to call up Gothic levies after Belisarius got to Sicily (IIRC, I read somewhere that Theodahad was trying to negotiate with Justinian: this does not justify his lack of pro-activity, but might explain his inertia). Vitiges was crowned in 536 after his marriage to Matasuntha, and immediately had Theodahad killed. Now I was unable to find when exactly Vitiges was crowned, but Belisarius left Sicily for Italy in the spring of 536 and his troops entered Naples after a three weeks siege in November. Calling the Gothic levies was quite a cumbersome affair, and there was obviously no standing army. I doubt that Vitiges can confront Belisarius at the siege of Naples even if he's crowned (and Theodahad is eliminated) in the spring of 536, although if the marriage/crowning is held in Ravenna most of the Gothic chieftains would be in attendance and there would be an opportunity to jump-start the process of calling up the levies. Theoretically, coronation of Vitiges in April, three months to call the levies and three months to march to Naples would put the Gothic army in front of Belisarius at the end of September/beginning of October when the siege is just starting. Consider however that the logistics of the Gothic army were pretty laughable, and could not compare with the Roman army supported by the fleet. I go back again to the start: the news of Belisarius invasion of Sicily should have reached Ravenna by late 535, and it is surprising that no preparation at all was undertaken.

Eutharic surviving and being crowned king would have certainly been a great improvement for the Goths, although there are not a lot of sources who would allow us to judge him. Theoderic's death in 515 or thereso would have helped, since Eutharic would have been crowned king and his death would possibly be butterflied away. It is also likely that Justinian would not have jumped on the invasion of Italy if the succession had been stable.

The mettle of Gothic commanders is also doubtful, although some of them must have gained experience fighting against the Franks in Provence or on the N-E border of Italy.


Sounds interesting. How about a Lombard mutiny at Taginae? If the situation was as desperate for the Ostrogoths as you pointed then an alliance with Audoin in the 550's doesn't sound unbelievable and perhaps, hearing rumors of their king (Admitting they recognized him as king.) siding with Totila the Lombard foederates in Narses' army may switch side.
Of course the same rumors may convince Narses to massacre or send far away his Lombards before meeting the Goths.
This would decrease his numbers (The problem is how many Lombars did fight for him?) which could have an impact on the battle if Narses isn't able to substitute them (I highly doubt of him not being able to do it.) that means the latter Audoin sides with Totila the harsher it might be for the Byzantines.
Of course the Lombards need to march to Taginae from Pannonia (Bratislava-Gualdo Tadino is roughly 900 Km. 2-3 months?) and so there're some limits to "the latter".

Best case scenario for the Ostrogoths and the Lombards using these proposals:
• During Winter 551 Totila and Audoin agree to let the Lombards settle in Friuli and Eastern (Nowadays.) Veneto.
• In Spring they cross the Alps and start marching South to meet the main Gothic army.
• The first courier(s) who are/is riding their/his horse(s) to Byzantium fall(s) and break(s) their/his neck(s). First delay.
• The courier(s)'s ship from Constantinople is caught in a storm and destroyed. Second delay.
• Other troubles with the courier(s)' horse(s) in Southern Italy. Third delay.
• Add as many possible delays and distractions as are necessary to get to two months (Persian attack in Syria?).
• As soon as Narses hears about the new alliance he thinks about sending his Lombards to Syria and so he does, but he's forced by Justinian to send also a small part of his archers (The real reason of OTL victory.) and many foederates too.
• He's able to raise some substitutes in the remaining weeks.
• Battle of (I'm actually no more sure about Taginae, maybe Narses decides to avoid an open battle, but since this is a best case scenario. ) somewhere Narses is forced to retreat and both sides suffer heavy casualties.
• Narses is moved to Syria.
• By 553 the Byzantine leave most of Italy.

     This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain:  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.  
  1. ^Henry Bradley, The story of the Goths: from the earliest times to the end of the Gothic dominion in Spain, p. 280 (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1903).
  2. ^ Croke, Brian (April 1987). "Cassiodorus and the Getica of Jordanes". Classical Philology (82.2): 117–134.  
  3. ^ Heather, Peter (1998). The Goths. Malden: Blackwell. p.𧈌.  
  4. ^J.B. Bury, 1923. History of the Later Roman Empire chapter xix
  5. ^Anecdota, ch. V
  6. ^ Bury, Later Roman Empire, ch. xix.

Ancient World History

Like other German peoples, the Ostrogoths regained their independence and entered the Roman Empire as Roman allies following the death of the Hunnish king Attila in 453. The Ostrogoths’ most important king was Theodoric, who became king in 474. After ravaging Thrace the young king was diverted westward by the Roman emperor Zeno in Constantinople.

Zeno hoped that Theodoric would overcome Odovacar, a former barbarian mercenary leader who had overthrown the last Roman emperor in the West, Romulus Augustulus, in 476. Theodoric quickly overcame Odovacar and treacherously murdered him.

The Ostrogothic kingdom under Theodoric was the most "civilized" of the post-Roman barbarian kingdoms in the western Mediterranean, marked by the persistence of Roman civilization and the continued acknowledgment of the rule of the Roman emperor at Constantinople. The Roman Senate continued to meet, and many senators served Theodoric’s government. Like late Western Roman emperors, Theodoric’s capital was at Ravenna, not Rome.

Unlike other barbarian states, the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy did not have different sets of laws for the Romans and the barbarians, although Goths tried Goths in military courts and Romans tried Romans in civilian courts. Like other barbarian states, however, Ostrogothic Italy faced the problem of religious differences.

The Ostrogoths were Arian Christians, denying the equality of Christ with God the Father, while their Roman subjects were Orthodox, accepting the doctrine of the Trinity. Toward the end of his reign Theodoric adopted a harsher policy toward the Senate and leading Romans for fear that they were conspiring with the Orthodox emperor.

His grandson Athalaric succeeded Theodoric, but the real power lay with his mother, Theodoric’s daughter Amalasuntha. Traditional Ostrogoths believed that Amalasuntha leaned too far to the Roman side, and she lacked Theodoric’s fame as a war leader.

In 534 she was imprisoned and strangled by her husband, Theodahad, who took the Ostrogothic crown for himself. The Ostrogothic kingdom, however, was in the path of the Roman emperor Justinian I, who aimed at destroying the Arian barbarian powers of the Mediterranean.

Proclaiming themselves avengers of Amalasuntha, a Roman army under the famed general Belisarius landed in Italy in 535. Theodahad, a poor leader, was deposed in favor of General Witiges, who was captured and taken to Constantinople in 540. (The Ostrogoths offered to make Belisarius their king, but he refused.)

The next Ostrogothic king to emerge, Totila, had some success and even retook Rome but was eventually defeated and killed in the Battle of Busta Gallorum in 552 by the Roman general Narses at the head of a mostly barbarian army. Soon afterward the Ostrogoths disappeared as a people.

The Roman destruction of the Ostrogoths and its accompanying devastation paved the way for the conquest of much of Italy by the much more barbaric Lombards. The Lombards had been established north of the Danube, where they came under increasing pressure from the Avars, a people originating in Central Asia.

Under the leadership of their king, Alboin, the Lombards invaded northern Italy and established a kingdom with its capital at Pavia. In subsequent decades they expanded their control over the peninsula.

Unlike the Ostrogoths, however, the Lombards never captured Rome or became masters of all Italy. Their kingdom was also never as centralized as that of their predecessors. The Lombards competed with dukes and the popes for Rome, and with the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperors for the peninsula.

Outside the northern Lombard kingdom, semi-independent Lombard duchies were also established in the south, at Spoleto and Benevento. The Lombards, unlike the Ostrogoths, maintained the dual system of law for Romans and barbarians.

Over the course of time, however, they converted from their original pagan and Arian religions to the Catholicism of their subjects, which ended the religious issue with the papacy but left the territorial one.

The Byzantine emperors had relinquished their protection of the papacy after the fall of Ravenna to the Lombard king Aistulf in 751. However, the Lombard kingdom was ultimately destroyed by the Frankish kingdom.

The Frankish ruler Pepin the Short invaded Italy in 754, restoring to the papacy lands that the Lombards had taken but not subjugating the Lombard kingdom. He returned in 756, forcing Aistulf to acknowledge the Frank as his overlord.

The final destruction of the Lombard kingdom was the work of Pepin’s son and successor, Charlemagne, who in 774 made a prisoner of the last Lombard king, Desiderius, and had himself crowned with the iron crown of the Lombards.

Bereft of their privileges as a ruling elite, the Lombards of the north assimilated with their one-time Italian subjects, leaving the name of Lombardy to denote a region of northern Italy. The Normans conquered the last independent Lombard power, the duchy of Benevento, in the 11th century.

6# The Sack of Roman Army

When the Holy Emperor Charles V fought against the League of Cognac, an allied force of the Kingdom of France, the Kingdom of England, the Republic of Venice, Pope Clement VII, and the Republic of Florence, the Duchy of Milan, the Imperial Army was not paid for months.

The Duke of Bourbon, Charles III, commanded the Imperial Army during the war. However, the impoverished army forced the Duke to allow them to pillage the city of Rome to get the booty of war.

The Duke rallied them and allowed them to assault the Holy City on May 6, 1527. To distinguish himself from his troops, the Duke wore his famous white cloak. This was a tactical mistake as the white cloak made him visible to the defenders. The Duke was shot down on the same day by Benvenuto Cellini during the battle.

However, his leaderless army quickly breached the walls, entered the city, defeated the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, and forced Pope Clement to flee to the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Once in the city, the Imperial Army killed men, women, and children. They raped women and didn’t spare the Catholic nuns. The nuns were raped and auctioned in the public market.

When the army left, Rome was in shambles and littered with naked dead bodies. Half of the 55,000 population perished or fled the city.

Many great artworks and priceless monuments were stolen or destroyed. Many important scholars were killed. Historians agree that the rampage of 1527 was the final deathblow to the Renaissance bloom of Italy.

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